Three poems by Róisín Kelly

‘Oysters’, ‘A Massage Room in West Cork’ and ‘At a Photography Exhibition in New York Public Library’ are June’s Hennessy New Irish Writing winning poems


I feel sorry for them, still nestled

in their houses on the plate

but still bring the helpless, tender souls


to my tongue, and swallow.

My life is a shell, splitting

and inside I am papered with silver.

I am going from shell

to fissuring shell

like stepping stones in a river

or a sky of broken stars.

Sandcastles fall soft in the tide.

An uncle’s boat sank off Galway

before I was born.

On the ferry we drink brandy

during winter crossings in Clew Bay.

Have you ever tasted mackerel

cooked over a barrel of coals,

their burnt skins coated in cornflour?

We bash their tiny heads

against rocks, the rocks

give me bruises and cuts-

my hurt body salted for a meal.

What price the ocean,

oysters kissing the throat?

Boys’ names I once wrote

on a beach now feed the slow tide

that leaves in return

the white waste of shells,

those delicate fragments

that once held lives.


They tell us the massage room is free

in the farmhouse attached to the pub

where we’ve been drinking

so we sleep there, on a narrow wooden bed.

I watch dream-catchers shiver

on the ceiling, listen to you breathing

and people talking loudly in the yard.

All night your arm lies heavy across me

so I won’t roll off in my sleep

and all night we keep on the orange

crystal lamp to soften four panes

of glass-hard darkness at the window.

Beyond this room, the house nestles

in the country road’s gentle curve.

Within this room: the weight

of your arm. Your body moulded

to the shape of mine. Dreams

of oil: lavender, rosemary, sweet almond.

Of fingers kneading flesh

in the gold dim. Your glistening skin.


Below a glass case, men bend their brides backwards to kiss them.

On an altar, on a beach with a cruise ship ghosting the horizon.

On a country lane an old man embraces an old woman.

Hands around waists, bouquets brushing the ground, white lace.

I always knew you’d never bend me backwards

for the first kiss of our married life, never carry me over

the threshold of our home. If we walked down the aisle,

your bones would already be dust, like those in crypts below us.

I would have been the best bride I could for you: diamonds

in my hair, my bridesmaids in primrose, my eyes as bright

as the ring on my finger. But such a day, and its companion life,

was never written in the stars we share. Fellow Aquarian,

what we had is the glass coffin of something still, silent,

and preserved in what beauty I could find there. Read this

and know that I at least imagined. Wherever you are, go

with a bride-thought haunting your shoulder, as lovely as snow.

Róisín Kelly was born in Belfast and lives in Cork. This year she was one of 12 poets selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions series, and she is the featured poet in the summer issue of the Stinging Fly. More work is forthcoming in the magazine the Dark Horse and the anthology The Poet's Quest for God (Eyewear, 2016)